Tour of the Oisans: The GR54
By Kev Reynolds
A guidebook to the GR54 trek around the Écrins national park, the Tour of the Oisans. The 176km route is described clockwise from Bourg d'Oisans and is one of Europe's toughest treks. The Tour is split into 10 day stages with suggestions for a 13-day itinerary and alternative stages. For experienced Alpine trekkers, some exposure.
SeasonsAvoid before mid-July (snow on highest cols). Accommodation busiest midJuly-end August. Sept is ideal and October can be good, though some accommodation shut in Oct.
CentresBegins and ends at Bourg d'Oisins, passing through La Grave, Vallouise and La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar
DifficultyTough.... perhaps one of Europe's hardest treks. Scrambling, but no technical mountaineering skills required. High, steep and remote in places, with some uprotected exposed sections... need a good head for heights.
The scenery encountered on the Tour of the Oisans is spectacular and ever varied which, with charming villages and hamlets to visit on the way, makes the trekker’s experience both rich and rewarding. The route detailed in this guidebook follows the GR54 around the Écrins in a clockwise direction. It is described from start to finish in 10 long day stages and includes a few alternative sections to consider. At almost every stage you will gaze upon wild and rugged mountain, look down into deep valleys, stride across pastures, contemplate lakes, streams or waterfalls, and enter regions of apparent remoteness.
The Tour of the Oisans covers a distance of 176km, crosses 14 passes, and ascends a total of 12,830m in 10 or 13 days – perfect for a fortnight’s holiday. Several stages of the Oisans trek cross unprotected rocky sections, or follow narrow, exposed trails safeguarded by a fixed cable. Others slant across steep slopes of shale and grit and some of the cols are so narrow that you could sit astride the ridge with legs dangling on either side. Due to the difficulty of the Tour, a clear head and sure-footedness are prerequisites of all who set out.
The Tour of the Oisans is tougher and more demanding than most other multi-day treks in Europe, and although it is a walk that requires no technical mountaineering skills, scrambling ability, sure-footedness and a good head for heights will be called for. The Massif des Écrins is one of the most challenging of Alpine environments, and no one should accept the challenge of this route lightly.
Most of the trails are clearly defined, straightforward and well maintained. But there are also numerous narrow and exposed sections on which great care should be exercised. Even the most undemanding paths can become hazardous when transformed by rain, snow or ice.
How to Get There
When to Go
Notes for Walkers
Safety in the Mountains
The Parc National des Écrins
Alpine Flowers and Wildlife
Using the Guide
Information at a Glance
Part 1 Bourg d'Oisans to Vallouise
Stage 1 Bourg d'Oisans – Besse-en-Oisans
Stage 2 Besse-en-Oisans – La Grave
Stage 3 La Grave – Monêtier-les-Bains
Stage 4 Monêtier-les-Bains – Vallouise
Part 2 Vallouise to Bourg d'Oisans
Stage 5 Vallouise – Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette
Stage 6 Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette – La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar
Alt Stage 6 Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette – La Chapelle via Vallon d'Isola
Stage 7 La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar – Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey
Stage 8 Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey – Valsenestre
Stage 9 Valsenestre –Refuge de la Muzelle
Alt Stage 9 Valsenestre – Bourg d'Arud
Stage 10 Refuge de la Muzelle – Bourg d'Oisans
Alt Stage 10 Bourg d'Arud – Bourg d'Oisans
Appendix A Accommodation
Appendix B Useful Addresses
Appendix C Bibliography
Appendix D French–English Glossary
The Carte de Randonnées hiking map, A6 Écrins, published by Rando Éditions at 1:50,000 should be more than adequate for trekkers walking the Tour of the Oisans. The standard of cartography and artistic representation are excellent, although the rate of glacial recession is a challenge for every new edition. Based on the official survey by the IGN (Institut Géographique National), the route of GR54 and its variantes are outlined in red. Refuges and most gîtes d’étape are also clearly marked, while the boundaries of the Parc National des Écrins are delineated with a bold green outline.
The map has a 2km square grid and is GPS compatible, and below the Key a number of useful telephone numbers are given – but make sure you have the latest edition, or some of these might be out of date.
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Walkers tackling the GR54 will be interested to know that the small village of Valsenestre, visited at the end of Stage 8 (p112 of the guidebook), now has additional accommodation at the gite, Les Marmottes, which is advertised as being of particular use for families and groups of 4-19 people. Moderately priced, the address is: Les Marmottes, Hameau de Valsenestre, F-38740 Valjouffrey, France. Tel: +33 (0) 4 76 30 24 65 – see www.montagnepourtous.org.
Please note the following information received from reader Robin Gill – to whom we owe thanks.
Stage 5: page 79 A navette (minibus) service now operates in summer from Vallouise to the roadhead at Entre les Aygues. It departs at 07.00am opposite Jacky Sports in Vallouise – to reserve a seat call 04 92 50 25 05; or enquire at the tourist office.
Stage 9: pages 114/116 A well-made zigzag path has now been cut in the slates leading to Col de la Muzelle from the south, thus eliminating the need for scrambling.
Page 106 & 136
Please note that a new gîte has been opened in the small village of LE DÉSERT-EN-VALJOUFFREY (Stage 7) which could be useful for trekkers walking the Tour of the Oisans.
Le Gîte des Arias is open all year; it has 20 places (beds & dorms), meals provided & self-catering facilities. Tel: (0033) 607443420 Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.lesarias.fr
page 81: At PONT DES FONTAINES do not cross the bridge (the route has been diverted), but remain on the right-hand side of the river until you come to the road through the Vallee d'Entraigues, and rejoin the described route at PONT DES PLACES.
page 92: In the final paragraph on this page please note that a new bridge has been built by the old house. This is where you now cross the stream.
page 95: LA CHAPELLE-EN-VALGAUDEMAR Please note that this is the last real opportunity to buy supplies until you reach Bourg d'Oisans at the end of the trek.
page 106: LE DESERT-EN-VALJOUFFREY Supplies are no longer available at the Bar des Ecrins, although meals are. A few basic foodstuffs may be purchased from the Auberge l'Eterlou
‘I LOVE this guidebook to the GR54. The glossy dark blue cover looks tough enough to withstand being drenched and sat on and the inside is immediately appealing. Kev Reynolds has done another brilliant job to entice his readers to the dramatic area.
The first part includes the usual but very useful information about trekking in the Alps. The main part of the book describes each stage clearly in his unique style, and the route descriptions and little maps of each stage are very clear with just the right amount of detail.
If I were lifted to a desert island, Kev Reynold’s guides would sit well alongside The Bible and Shakespeare and survive being washed ashore as well!’
(Strider - LDWA / December 08)
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A lifelong passion for the countryside in general, and mountains in particular, drives Kev's desire to share his sense of wonder and delight in the natural world through his writing, photography and lecturing.
Claiming to be The Man with the World's Best Job, he has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Cicerone since the 1970s, producing over 50 books, including guides to five major trekking regions of Nepal, and to numerous routes in the European Alps and Pyrenees, as well as walking guides for Kent, Sussex and the Cotswolds.